- »NSW Resumes Crown-Melco Inquiry After Covid Pause
NSW Resumes Crown-Melco Inquiry After Covid Pause
The coronavirus pandemic delivered a brief reprieve for Crown Resorts from inquiries into its 2019 deal with Melco Resorts. The New South Wales inquiry was underway in the first months of 2020, but the pandemic and subsequent safety shutdowns of all non-essential businesses put it on hold.
While Crown had plenty to deal with during the inquiry hold that started on April 3, the company must step up and back into action to defend itself. The NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority hearings are set to resume “immediately.”
On Hold No Longer
As New South Wales – and all of Australia – begins to emerge from the coronavirus-inspired lockdown, the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority put one of its largest inquiries back on the calendar. Active parts of the “Casino Inquiry” paused in April due to health and government official dictates, but those restrictions are slowly lifting.
“After carefully considering the current Covid-19 situation, and Commonwealth and NSW Government advice and restrictions,” wrote the NSW, “the Authority considers it safe and practicable to resume the Inquiry’s work.”
The message was dated June 23, but the NSW Inquiry website has yet to be updated with new dates for hearings. This will likely happen with hearing dates in early July in mind.
The Honorable Patricia Bergin SC remains the appointed commissioner for the inquiry and continues to operate under the Royal Commissions Act of 1923.
Schedule Thus Far
The first public hearing in the case took place on January 21, 2020. But the hearings during the last week of February became more focused, starting with Australian casino operations and then honing in on Junket operations with relation to Crown and Melco. They also examined regulatory statutes and vulnerabilities with relation to money laundering via casinos.
Paul Bromberg was the initial guest at the first public hearing. Professors Anthony Cabot and I. Nelson Rose from the United States testified by video in February, as did Jessica Lin. Dr. John Langdale and Aug Chapman testified in person in NSW.
At the point when the coronavirus began making inroads beyond China and into other parts of the Asia-Pacific region, Peter Cohen and Joshua Preston planned to provide video statements and field questions from Melbourne, but the inquiry ultimately postponed those hearings.
Still Relevant Inquiry
The massive exposé by 60 Minutes, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Age hit the gambling world hard nearly one year ago. The allegations in the deep journalistic report included everything from money laundering to sex trafficking, all happening under the knowing eyes of Crown Casino executives.
The charges tying Crown Casino to Chinese crime syndicates may have been enough to warrant an inquiry in and of itself, but the relationship between James Packer of Crown and Lawrence Ho of Melco Resorts complicated matters.
The son of casino mogul Stanley Ho had long been thought to have maintained relationships with Chinese criminal triads, and Packer’s relationship with Stanley’s offspring made Australian government officials uncomfortable. Packer also vowed in a previous agreement with the Aussie government to never do business with the Ho family.
Despite this, Packer sold a share of Crown Resorts to Lawrence Ho and Melco Resorts. That tenth of Packer’s shares cost Ho approximately $1.76 billion, but Ho was in talks to double that purchase.
When NSW officials stepped in, however, Melco began to pull away. Inquiry demands of documents from Melco prompted Ho to step back and ultimately drop his plan to purchase another 10% of Crown. His initial 10% was a done deal, though, and he had to face the inquiry.
Crown in a World of Chaos
The year began with formal inquiries into Crown Resorts and its past and present business dealings. The immediate inquiry by NSW was only the first of three Aussie investigations into Crown scheduled for 2020.
When the pandemic forced all casinos and associated businesses to shut down in mid-March, Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth were among them. Meanwhile, stock prices plummeted from $10.24 at the beginning of March to $5.90 by March 20, three days before the official closing of the casino properties.
Stocks recovered slightly, but the weeks that followed led Crown to stand down approximately 18,500 workers by the beginning of April.
Crown won no popularity contests during the pandemic.
As the doors now begin to reopen and slowly welcome a limited number of customers and gamblers, Crown Resorts tries to resume business and put some people back to work. It will take a long time to recover from the economic damage of the pandemic. And all the while, the company will face this inquiry and have to deal with its decisions regarding its casino licensing in Australia.
To say that 2020 will be a pivotal year for Crown Casino would not be an understatement.